As Teddy Bridgewater likely seeks a chance to start next season, here are the five best fits for him in NFL free agency.
Once upon a time, Teddy Bridgewater was one of the promising young quarterbacks in the NFL. The Minnesota Vikings won a division title in his first full season as a starter, and a strong 2016 preseason brought promise of good things to come.
But a severe left knee injury just before the start of that regular season derailed Bridgewater’s career, and his final snaps with the Vikings came in garbage time of a blowout win late in the 2017 season. He signed with the New York Jets as a free agent last offseason, and then late in the preseason he was traded to the New Orleans Saints.
Bridgewater spent the season as Drew Brees’ backup, with a start in Week 17 with the Saints having nothing to gain as the top seed in the NFC. There was the expected amount of rust (14-for-22 for 118 yards with a touchdown and an interception), for a quarterback would had not seen extended action in a meaningful game since January of 2016.
So teams in the market for a quarterback have one, not particularly useful, recent game on which to evaluate Bridgewater. But he could find an opportunity to compete for a starting job, in a thin market for quarterbacks this offseason, and Bridgewater is still only 26 years old.
As Bridgewater hits the open market, these five teams should have interest in the former first-round pick.
5. New York Giants
The Giants have a decision to make on Eli Manning, with a reported “most likely scenario” he will open the 2019 season as the starting quarterback. But finishing the campaign as the starter stands as a separate question, with the Giants definitely in the mix to draft a quarterback in April or add another veteran signal caller before then.
Giants head coach Pat Shurmur came in as Minnesota’s tight ends coach between the 2015 and 2016 seasons, and he eventually became offensive coordinator for roughly a season and a half. So there some level of presumed mutual familiarity here, even though Bridgewater never started a game for the Vikings with Shurmur as offensive coordinator.
A full parting of ways with Manning this offseason would open the door for Bridgewater to sign with the Giants, and at minimum compete for the starting job with a presumed incoming rookie. But from another perspective, Bridgewater could be brought in as the direct competition for Manning, and the quarterback of the future himself.
4. Carolina Panthers
Cam Newton seems on track to be fine for Week 1 after shoulder surgery in January. But two years ago the Indianapolis Colts were beating the same drum with Andrew Luck, and he wound up sitting out a whole season. It’s also worth noting Newton has had surgery on his throwing shoulder in two of the last three offseasons.
The Panthers went with Taylor Heinicke (who also wound up injured) and Kyle Allen when Newton was shut down at the end of last season, so a better backup plan under center has to be on the agenda. Offensive coordinator Norv Turner held the same post with the Vikings when Bridgewater was drafted, and Bridgewater started 29 games (including playoffs) in Turner’s system.
There’s no clear path to the starting job in Carolina right now, assuming Newton is actually good to go by the time next season starts. But the Panthers should have a fair level of interest in Bridgewater, if only based on his familiarity with Turner’s offense, and as they keep an eye on the quarterback market in general the fit is there. A repeat of last year with the Jets, with a strong preseason showing yielding a trade to a team that needs a quarterback more urgently, could happen in Carolina for Bridgewater.
3. Washington Redskins
Simply put, Alex Smith’s career-threatening leg injury puts the Redskins in a difficult position and it would be a surprise if he doesn’t miss all of next season. He carries salary cap hits of $20.4 million this year and $21.4 million in 2020, before the dead money hit drops to $10.8 million in 2021 (the third year of the four-year extension he got when acquired from the Chiefs). If Smith has to retire that would change things, but Washington is necessarily limited in what it can do to add a veteran quarterback for 2019.
Joe Flacco, Nick Foles, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Tyrod Taylor and Bridgewater are the notable veteran quarterbacks set to be available, with Ryan Tannehill in line to be added to the list. Flacco and Foles may be too expensive, and while Fitzpatrick is fun to watch he’s also erratic. That leaves Taylor and Bridgewater, along with internal free agents Colt McCoy and Josh Johnson or a possible draft pick, as the Redskins’ likeliest starting options for next season.
When we last saw him in extensive action with the Vikings, Bridgewater profiled similarly to Smith as a quarterback who took great care of the ball (often to a fault). That’s not necessarily a great reason for the Redskins to have a lot of interest, but the price should be right on a one or two-year deal.
2. Jacksonville Jaguars
After a run to the AFC Championship Game in 2017, the Jaguars gave Blake Bortles a contract extension. The error in that was proven immediately in 2018, as the team underachieved and Bortles was benched in favor of Cody Kessler for a time. There are now cap implications with cutting Bortles, but that’s what Jacksonville is expected to do. By designating the former No. 3 overall pick as a post-June 1 cut, a $16.5 million dead money hit can be spread over two years.
Jacksonville can move into positive territory against the salary cap with some cuts and restructures. obviously including Bortles. But shy of signing (or a trade for, at this point) Nick Foles, it’s virtually certain they won’t be paying big for a veteran quarterback in free agency. Not that there’s a quarterback in line to really break the bank anyway, as Kirk Cousins was at this time last year.
Even if they draft a quarterback in April, possibly as early as the seventh overall pick, the Jaguars can offer Bridgewater a good chance at a starting job. The core of what was a good team in 2017 should remain in place, and simply having more competent play under center could easily bring a rebound campaign for Jacksonville in 2019.
1. Miami Dolphins
The Dolphins are finally ready and able to give up on Ryan Tannehill, as they embark on a new era under head coach Brian Flores amid talk of not trying to legitimately compete next season. They will have to take on some dead money but cutting Tannehill, but they can also free up just shy of $13.2 million in much-needed cap space this year if he’s cut before June 1.
The Dolphins may (and perhaps should) draft a quarterback in April. But it’s just as likely they’ll sign a stopgap for this year, with an eye on a 2020 draft class that’s slated to include Tua Tagovailoa and Justin Herbert.
Bridgewater is a Miami native, so the Dolphins may have some automatic appeal as he looks for a new team on the open market.
General manager Chris Grier is trying to maintain whatever trade leverage there might be by not saying publicly the decision to part with Tannehill has been made, but it’s obvious the Dolphins have an opening for someone to start under center next season. If it’s not going to be Tannehill (it won’t be), and a rookie or a move to retain Brock Osweiler isn’t the plan (the latter as a sign they’ll fully embrace tanking), Bridgewater is an easy fit.